PMW 2019-106 by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.

As I open the fifth study of my analysis of “the kings of the earth” in Revelation, I now turn to John’s:

Hebraic Grammar

I will also note in my commentary’s Introduction the widely-known fact of John’s distinctive, quite Hebraic grammar and syntax. This feature of Rev is so striking that some commentators even develop a special grammar in their introductions (Charles 1:cvii–clix; Aune clx-ccxi), while other scholars have written whole works on the subject (Mussies 1971; S. Thompson 1985).

What is more, John appears to do this for dramatic effect. Beale and Carson (2007:1087) note that his Hebraic grammar ‘howlers’ are “deliberate attempts to express Semitisms and septuagintalisms in his Greek, the closest analogy being that of the LXX translations.” Thus, the whole original experience in reading and hearing Rev is strongly Judaic.

Key Indicators

In such an OT-oriented, Jewish-sounding book we also discover abundant Jewish imagery and even direct statements against the Jews. For instance, two of the seven letters highlight strong opposition to churches from local Jewish synagogues in Smyrna and Philadelphia. In these two letters Jesus charges the Jews with blasphemy and lying about their claim to be true Jews, while deriding them as “synagogues of Satan” (2:9; 3:9). Interestingly, these are the only two churches that receive no rebuke (contra 2:4, 14, 20; 3:2, 4, 15–16).

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Temple imagery and ritual worship appear abundantly throughout Rev (see: Paulien 1995; Stevenson). For example, in Rev we see temple (7:15; 11:1, 19; 14:15, 17; 15:5, 8; 16:17), incense (5:8; 8:3; 18:13), priestly figures (1:13; 15:6), altar (6:9; 9:3, 5; 9:13; 11:1; 14:18; 16:7), slain lamb (5:6, 12; 13:8), golden bowls (5:8, 15:7), worship (4:10; 5:14; 7:11; 11:1, 16; 15:4), singing (5:9, 11–12; 14:2; 15:3; 19:6), etc.

Edersheim (1948:141–42) expresses this forcefully: “Indeed, the Apocalypse, as a whole, may be likened to the Temple services in its mingling of prophetic services with worship and praise. But it is specially remarkable, that the Temple-references with which the Book of Revelation abounds are generally to minutiae, which a writer who had not been as familiar with such details, as only personal contact and engagement with them could have rendered him, would scarcely have been noticed, certainly not employed as part of his imagery.”

Not only so but Rev frequently alludes to Jesus’ Olivet Discourse (Mt 24; Mk 13; Lk 21) which is a prophecy against the temple (Mt 23:38–24:3) and Judea (Mt 24:16) and which is to occur in the first century (Mt 24:34//). Consider the following few samples.

In 1:7 John’s theme verse parallels Jesus’ statement at Mt 24:30. Both of these passages speak of Christ’s judgment “coming on the clouds” against “the tribes of the earth.” In all of Scripture only Rev 1:7 and Mt 24:30 merge Da 7:13 and Zec 12:10. Beale (196) comments: “Matt. 24:30 may have influenced John to use the same combination here.” Swete (10) comments that Matthew “turns the sentence precisely as John does.” In 6:1ff “the content corresponds very closely to the eschatological discourse of Jesus in Luke 21:9–36, par.” (Smalley 146; cp. Charles 1:xxxv; Kistemaker 224).

In 11:1–2 a voice directs John to measure the “temple of God” that stands in the “holy city” where the “Lord was crucified” (11:8) so that it might be “tread under foot” by the nations. This “appears to be parallel with Luke 21:24” (Beale 569). Indeed, Scott observes “it is hardly possible to escape the conclusion” that Revelation 11 is using Luke 21 (cited in Payne 1973: 616). Thus, it reflects Jesus’ warning against first-century Israel and her temple (Lk 21:24; cp. Lk 21:5–6). In 18:24 the judged harlot has within her “the blood of prophets and of saints and of all who have been slain on the earth.” John draws this language from the context of Jesus’ prophecy against Jerusalem where he utters seven woes against the scribes and Pharisees which is to occur in “this generation” (Mt 23:35–36). Beale (923) notes that this language “echoes” the Olivet Discourse, at Mt 23:35, 37.

Commenting on 18:24 Swete (241) states that “it is remarkable that the same is said of Jerusalem before her fall.” The glorious goal of the book is the coming of new Jerusalem (21:2, 10) to replace the old historical Jerusalem. Smolarz (17), referring to Bauckham, notes that “he has explained that John consciously integrated various parts of his work into a literary whole. . . . The whole book is a composition which is directed to its climax in 17:1–19:10 and 21:99—22:9; the destruction of the harlot Babylon and the replacement by the bride of the Lamb, the new Jerusalem.” These and numerous other allusions reflect a strong concern with historic, first-century Israel.

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All of these Judaic/Hebraic tendencies within Rev would fit well with the make-up of the seven churches. As Lambrecht (in Bieringer 2001: 279n) notes: “most probably the majority of Christians in the churches of Revelation were Jewish Christians who still considered themselves ‘Jews’” (cp. Keener 71). We may surmise this not only from the high concentration of Jews in Asia Minor, and from the general practice of Christians operating among the Jews (Ac 13:14; 14:1; 17:1, 10; 18:4, 19, 26; 19:8), but also from the fact that in letters to two of Rev’s churches the title of “Jew” is denied to racial Jews and claimed by the churches (2:9; 3:9).

Thus, if we interpret the “kings of the earth” as representing Israel’s religious authorities, it would fit perfectly within both the strong NT redemptive-historical setting of transitioning from old to new covenant, as well as in Rev’s Judaic drama of the Slain Lamb which leads to a “new” Jerusalem. The early apostolic preaching repeatedly blames the Jews for Christ’s crucifixion (Ac 2:22-23, 36; 3:12–14; 4:10; 5:24, 28–30; 10:39). But the primary focus of that blame falls upon Israel’s religious leaders (Mt 26:59, 66; 27:1; Mk 14:64; Lk 23:22–23; 24:20; Acts 7:52 [cp. 6:12–7:1]; 13:27–29; 1Th 2:14–15).

I will not leave you comfortless, but will return to our study in my next installment. Be warmed and filled until then!

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